Anthony Burrill on combining art and music for his new The Future is Now acid house vinyl


Detail from The Future is Now sleeve by Anthony Burrill

Influential print-maker Anthony Burrill gives us an exclusive peek of his print screen vinyl sleeve for The Future is Now, an acid house collaboration and the graphic designer's first ever music release.

Anthony Burrill is a time traveller. The print-maker who laid out the future for British graphic design studios everywhere with his I Like It. What Is It? poster book way back in 2013 is back with a nostalgic new project, one that takes from the acid house raves of his youth and reminds us of the hedonistic dystopia predicted in those electronic sounds of yore.

The Future is Now is the name of this release, a 12-inch vinyl that's also Anthony's first ever music release. The story behind this collaborative project will be discussed at the graphic designer's talk for annual creative highlight Glug this week, along with his upcoming book Look & See. This scrapbook-like piece assembles various collected visuals from Anthony's collection, printed ephemera from the past that show's the man's capacity to time jump. In this interview with Digital Arts about both projects, Anthony gives us an exclusive peek at his sleeve design for The Future is Now, along with discussing his work with old typefaces for The House of St Barnabas, ancient websites for Kraftwerk, and the rising stars whom you should be keeping an eye on. 

GL: The Future is Now is your first ever music release; what inspired you to take on this project and how did you go about it?

AB: "I was out in Berlin last year, and my friend Andrew Claristidge said to me, 'What do you want to do next? You've done lots of different things.' And I replied, 'Well, I've always wanted to make a record.' And as he's a DJ and producer he said, 'Well, let's make a record then.' Later I went out again to Berlin and spent time in his studio."

GL: Had you ever worked with Andrew previously?

AB: "When I met him originally, I created some stuff for his band Acid Washed, almost a decade ago. We've got very similar kind of reference points, with references in music and visual art and stuff. We just spent a bit of time in the studio and worked on a couple of tracks together, and then we decided to press them as a 12-inch.

"We've pressed 300 and there's going to be 150 as a limited edition screen printed cover. And each one is gonna be kind of different, sort of loose and with fluorescent colors in all the printing. Each one is gonna be like a kind of individual piece."

GL: With the fluorescent colours I guess you're trying to hark back to the old acid house days, the era of the Haçienda club. Was that old skool nostalgia the impetus behind it all?

AB: "Yeah, just to make reference to that and have fun. I'm in a sort of position now where I can sort of create my own projects, and I've got enough of a kind of following that people will be interested enough to buy copies. It kind of enables me to just kind of do things that I've always wanted to do."

GL:  Am I right in thinking this is the first sleeve you've ever made?

AB: "Yeah, it's the first proper one. But I've done stuff in the past before for bands. I did a website for Kraftwerk back in the late '90s, when the internet first happened. It was kind of like Ceefax, old kind of technology.

"I've kind of worked with a few bands in the past and it's very difficult to get past musicians' egos, sometimes. It's like, you've got your thing and they've got their thing. It's a tricky, tricky thing sometimes. When I started out I basically wanted to design record sleeves. I thought that was a commercial application of being an artist. But stuff never happened, you know. It was quite frustrating, really."

GL: Did you contribute to the music in any way, like choosing samples or sitting at the sampler?

AB: "I was in the studio and it was basically me saying, 'That sounds great. Let's have a bit more of that.' I recorded a few of the samples for the weird kind of crunching sounds you can hear."

GL: Do you listen to music while you create your projects?

AB: "Yes, constantly. I'm always listening for new stuff and I just try to find interesting stuff that tickles my fancy. Usually electronic stuff as I'm not really into guitars."

GL: And Berlin is the best place for that. Do you often go there? It must be so different to where you're currently based, in rural Kent.

AB: "Yeah, I do a lot of traveling. I go to Barcelona quite often and Berlin, as I've got friends over there like a screen printer called Patrick Thomas, so I work with him in his studio. But, yeah, I just like that contrast between living in the countryside and then going to super intense places. I was in Mumbai earlier on this year. It's all about getting new inspiration and finding new things and stuff."

GL: So when you travel do you look out for printed ephemera from the past, the sort of stuff that makes up Look & See?

AB: "Yeah, I'm always looking for stuff. I go to hardware shops, off the beaten track a bit and kind of track things down. And if I'm going to specific places I'll try and see if there's a letterpress studio or screen printers I can visit."

GL: Was that how Look & See was pieced together?

AB: "I've been working on that for most of this year with Volume, which is part of Thames & Hudson and Darren Wall as the director. It's stuff that I've always collected and now it's all combined in one place, showing where my creative inspiration comes from. It shows the kind of stuff that I'm into and collect and then how that feeds into my work."

GL: You'll be talking about Look & See and The Future is Now at Glug. Do you get a great buzz from giving talks like these?

AB: "Yeah, I speak quite regularly; probably at least once a month I'm doing some things. And every time it's different, a different crowd; you get a different vibe, and it's almost like performing. You get a bit of energy from the crowd and you can be kind of serious and then kind of funny, and just mix it up. I don't really talk about graphic design, I talk about my approach to life, really."

GL: You're also unveiling a print you made for The House of St Barnabas charity this week, as made using new fonts made from old London signage, which we featured on Digital Arts recently. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

AB: "It says, 'Give Love, Give Hope,' which links in with everything else that I do - positive messages and positive propaganda. I think everything that I do has got a similar kind of feel. That sort of optimistic antidote to all the stuff that we see in the world at the moment.

The typeface is based on the type that's on the outside of the building that over the years has gradually been repaired really badly. Bits of it are missing and stuff; it was just a fantastic typeface to work with. We've done a screen print, an edition of one, so it'll be quite a rare thing. I love doing projects like that that have some kind of cultural relevance and it's for a good cause as well. And I like being involved in interesting projects, things that I believe in. It ticked all the boxes really."

GL: Are you working on any other projects currently?

AB: "Yeah, I've been working on a mural in Philadelphia. It's 50 meters long, and the biggest piece of work I've done so far."

GL: Oh, wow. Do you know when you'll be unveiling that?

AB: "That's going to be in September."

An Anthony Burrill classic

GL: You've said in the past you like to keep an eye on new talent, so who are your favourite newcomers at the moment?

AB: "There's this group called Protest Press, and they're graduates from Kingston. I did a little workshop with them a few weeks ago, a group of students who are developing positive messaging through workshops, graphic design and visual communication to talk about bigger subjects. They're one to watch."

GL: We often feature grad shows and up and coming student talent on Digital Arts. How important is it for you to keep one foot in with the various education houses out there?

AB: "Well, I think I want to impress on the students that visual communication isn't just about commerce. It's not just about selling stuff. It's about expression and bigger messages and it's about life values and approaches to that.

"I think students who've always been concerned with doing identities for clients should know there's also another world where you can make your own personal work and get into things that are more satisfying for yourself as a designer or as an artist."

Catch Anthony speaking at Glug on Thursday July 12 in London, and find more of his classic work through his official site.

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